As one of music most iconic artists dies at the age of 71, Sophie Seddon reflects back on the life of the man and the legend.
Lou Reed, lead singer of the Velvet Underground and a talented solo artist in his own right, has died at the age of 71. The cause of his death was confirmed on Sunday by his literary and UK agent was due to problems following liver failure after he had a transplant earlier this year.
The music world flocked to social media to express their sadness over his death, including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry and others, even more unusual Miley Cyrus. Writer Neil Gaiman’s gave a touching and thoughtful memoir, which he has written for the Guardian, reflecting back upon a man who was blunt, often dismissive and quite rude… except that this was Lou Reed the persona, not Lou Reed the man.
The Velvet Underground, which Reed formed with friend John Cale, surprisingly did not actually achieve much commercial success during their time. The band’s harsh rhythms of the guitars, blended with the smooth, husky, dry vocals, produce a devastating effect. It creates an atmosphere of lament, suffering, longing. ‘Heroin’ for example, designed to be anti-drugs in meaning, is mistaken for being pro, something Reed couldn’t quite get his head around. Alongside the drug-induced music of the Beatles, The Velvet Underground was dark and a bit versatile in comparison. However, Reed could write stunning ballads, such as ‘Pale Blue Eyes’. It is beautiful, gentle, full of want and desire, yet total perseverance. For those of you who have seen ‘Adventureland’, you’ll know that it is used when Jesse Eisenberg is admiring a pre-Twilight Kirsten Stewart in the car, gazing at her longingly, thinking only ‘what if’.
After being a part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene during the 60s, his own solo career kicked off in the 70s, which developed the successful ‘Transformer’ and ‘Berlin’, which were alongside Bowie and Iggy Pop. ‘Satellite of Love’, obscure and yet a real treat for the ears, and mirrors this era beautifully.
After being severely ill earlier this year, Reed appeared to make a rapid recovery, looking forward to performing again, and finding time to criticize the modern music industry, as well as continuing his controversial impatience towards the press, something Gaiman mentions his admiration for him for. His true Rock n’ Roll spirit and suave attitude, it is what made Reed an icon, not just an artist.
That’s exactly why Lou Reed’s music will be with us past his death, and why he will be greatly missed. His songs were stories, he the narrator. Distant, and yet ever-present, he was the omnipresent figure overlooking these songs and bringing them a life, but without getting too close: The man who to the public looked rude and cocky, a drug and alcohol abuser, a man who hated the press, and quite a persona to his audience as not to the let them in. Yet behind the scenes, through his music and talent, demonstrated a thoughtful, smart, interesting and opinionated man who gave the people something that is lost to us in most of our modern music: true artistry.
His music is incredible, because it is so close to the core of what makes human beings tick. It fuels itself on powerful emotions and experiences; loss, longing and addictions, sadness, happiness. The masterful way in which he balances the human emotion in his songs reflects that which we experience every day. I for one will use his music to make me realise that not everyday is a good one, but it doesn’t mean that I’ll never be happy. ‘Perfect Day’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ make me cry everytime I hear them, because I associate them with a memory that I love, and despair over, at the same time. One that makes me realise how stupid we as people can be, but that it doesn’t mean we should regret it. Something Lou Reed probably knew plenty about. He’d probably read this and tell me to stop moaning and go bungee jumping, or prove myself to the world (hey, I very well may do). He will always be, in my mind, a man of two halves. I hope that never changes.
Lou Reed: March 2nd 1942- October 27th 2013.
Top tracks to remember him by:
Pale Blue Eyes
Satellite of Love
Walk on the Wild Side